Building The Perfect Piazza

Of all the rituals we try to hold onto, my wife and I host our parents, children, and their children every Sunday for dinner.

Help keep your elders relevant.

I have mentioned this time-honored tradition in previous articles–the value of that experience and how it keeps the family ties tight.

As time passes, the wisdom gained by elders from challenging experiences is passed onto the younger families, leading to generations of well-balanced, thoughtful offspring–all of them ready to face the world “our way.”

As the elders of the family realize the days behind them far outnumber the days ahead, for many a certain loneliness sets in that is difficult to shake. In some ways, it’s almost a sense of desperation.

Looking Back

My wife’s stepfather, Miki, one of my dearest friends, recently received a letter from “the old country.” Enclosed was a picture of Miki and 15 of his classmates when they were teenagers. Their bodies were hard, their faces young, their spirits high.

Miki sat atop a white horse–no saddle, no shoes, no fear.

Fifty years later, he scrutinized the cracked black-and-white photo through a small magnifying glass he carries in his breast pocket, since he lost most of his vision by the time he was 20. Medical knowledge was not as developed in Hungary then as here in the states, and a facial kick by a draft horse “adjusted” Miki’s eyesight only a few weeks after that picture was taken.

He’s told me many times of how he brought his wife and newborn daughter to America with one trunk and the clothes on their backs. They didn’t know the English language or American ways. But the family was greeted by another Hungarian group that helped him get his family settled, and to find work as a laborer.

Miki applied himself and became a tool-and-die maker. He rented half a house, saved enough money to finance a loan, and then bought the entire house from the landlord. He then rented out the other half. The rent covered the mortgage and soon he owned the house outright.

He learned English by listening to other workers.

His daughter went to public school and showed abilities in science and math that fast-tracked her into college.

Miki worked, developed a good reputation, and moved up. He took extra shifts to cover her schooling, to acquire a better home, a newer car, and better food. It was then he coined the phrase, “In America, every day is Christmas!”

As he watched American consumers pile up “things,” he spent in a modest way, buying a used car, a black-and-white television, and hand-me-down clothes.

His principles didn’t change as he became more financially secure–“good enough” was indeed good enough. He invested and saved money that came from coveted extra shifts. Still fresh in his mind were his sisters and brothers back home, sitting around the fireplace in winter and sleeping on mattresses filled with hay and straw.

He packed boxes and boxes of clothes from Goodwill and over-the-counter medications to send “back to old country,” not only to share his good fortune, but to help those relatives live longer, as most of his kin were usually dead by 60.

Was It All Worth It?

So with all that in his heart–the job, the family he left behind, the wife who eventually left him because he was always at work, the loneliness of wondering if he ever should have left his roots–he gazed at this photo and wept. That Sunday at dinner, there was a silence about him I had not seen before.

I began to wonder if all of this health and science and nutrition that help to extend lives well beyond what it used to be is really a good thing. Maybe there’s some value to dying when all has been said and done. And I came to understand exactly what was foremost in Miki’s mind that day, a question we all must face eventually, “Was it all worth it?”

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